BY JIM HOWE
Eileen Rosecrants became alarmed during a phone call.
“I couldn’t speak clearly,” she recalls of that evening last fall. It wasn’t that her speech was slurred. She couldn’t figure out what to say, so she abruptly hung up, thinking, “I’m not right.”
Someone else then phoned her, and Rosecrants couldn’t handle that call, either, so she hung up again. Then, the 73-year-old Baldwinsville resident phoned her sister in Syracuse, thinking she would understand something was wrong and call for help.
Her sister figured out there was a problem and alerted 911.
Rosecrants didn’t call 911 herself because she worried that her inability to speak would delay help — but now she knows it’s best to call 911 directly.
She was able to let the ambulance crew into her home, but when she tried to tell them where to take her, “I couldn’t say the whole thing, just ‘Up … Ups …,’” she recalled.
They understood that she meant Upstate University Hospital. She was relieved on arrival to see not only her sister but a team of stroke specialists awaiting her.
She was familiar with Upstate’s comprehensive stroke treatment program, after spending nearly 10 years as a physician assistant in geriatrics at Upstate before retiring in 2013.
She got the clot-dissolving drug, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) quickly, once the stroke team determined that bleeding was not a problem. Five or six hours later, in the neurological intensive care unit, Rosecrants began to feel better.
A day and a half later, she could repeat words and follow simple directions, such as lifting her arm. She was able to go home. “I was so much better. I had the words back. I could make sentences. I could be socially appropriate. But there was, and is, a deficit,” she said.
She had weekly outpatient therapy to help restore speech and executive function — that is, the way people take in, think about and act on information.
Carrie Garcia, a speech-language pathologist at Upstate, helped her to regain skills including finding the right words, organizing her thoughts and following a set of directions.
“People can relearn these things and gain them back,” Garcia says, “not always to the exact same level as before the stroke, but sometimes a modified or adapted level.”
Meanwhile, Rosecrants has been living independently in her home, exercising at the YMCA three times a week, driving a car and shopping. She is grateful for Garcia’s help, especially for her suggestion to use a white board each month to write down all her activities and plans, which Rosecrants says greatly helps to organize her thoughts.
“For somebody who made my living putting pieces together, it’s hard,” she said, referring to her years of treating patients.
Upstate neurologist Antonio Culebras, MD, who treated Rosecrants after the stroke, said, “She did the right thing by coming to the hospital as soon as she knew it was the beginning of a stroke.
“The key is to give tPA as soon as possible. Every minute, literally, counts,” he said.
The drug has saved many people from ending up in a nursing home, he said.
Upstate experts also have other methods for removing clots and restoring blood flow. Culebras says the techniques allow for recovery that was unimaginable 50 years ago.
Although each case is unique, the neurologist noted that recovery can take a year or more.
As for what to do when someone is suspected of having a stroke, Rosecrants knows to tell people: “Call 911 as fast as you know there is something wrong.”
Call 911 — even if you cannot speak
If someone cannot speak because of a stroke or other problem, he or she should still call 911.
The 911 operator will try to keep the caller on the line and figure out what is going on, to rule out mistaken or crank calls. If a medical emergency is suspected, he or she will dispatch an ambulance, according to the Onondaga County Emergency Communications Department/911 Center.
The 911 operator can usually figure out the caller’s location.
If you think you are having a stroke, don’t drive yourself (which is dangerous) and don’t have someone drive you (which wastes time), advises Upstate neurologist Antonio Culebras, MD. Call 911 for an ambulance. The crew will be able to begin your care, monitor you and communicate with doctors at Upstate University Hospital, so the specialists from the stroke team are ready for your arrival.
This article appears in the summer 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine.